How do you want life to be when we emerge from the Covid-19 crisis?
It’s a big question. You may have been too busy juggling work and home-schooling to give it much thought, or too overwhelmed by sadness and exhaustion to focus on anything other than just getting through. If so, I invite you to make a little space now for reflection, even just to jot down a few thoughts and let them mull.
The pandemic is one of those life-changing events that offer a precious opportunity to reassess everything and to refocus on what really matters. In this rare case, it’s global, collective and simultaneous, which means the possibilities for change are much bigger.
To make the most of these possibilities, we need to consider both what we do and who we are as humans – what actions we take and who we really want to be in relation to ourselves, others and the planet.
Much of the focus currently is on what to do – how to rebuild the economy, how to create jobs to replace those lost, how to revive urban centres. These are urgent.
But there’s a danger that we rush to action without careful thought and in doing so lose sight of how we want to be different as a result of this earth-shattering crisis.
An example is the shift to ‘hybrid’ working – where work is partly co-located, partly dispersed. Amid the buzz about this new model, there’s a risk that organisations apply old thinking and old rules to a completely changed situation. If so, they’ll miss the opportunity to think about what work is really for, what good jobs look like, and how to design jobs for people, instead of forcing people to fit jobs.
This danger shows up in a recent survey of around 250 organisations by employee research agency Karian and Box and the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership. It found that 97% of organisations are planning for some kind of mix of co-located and home working. Yet just 30% have a clear consensus about their vision of the future – and only 36% are actively redesigning job roles for new ways of working.
“Now is the time for organisations to look beyond location to consider how their employees will work in the future, as well as where they will work,” says Jenny Hill, managing director at Karian and Box. “To turn the optimism for positive change … into lasting positive change it’s critical that organisations (1) consider the mental wellbeing and lived experiences of their people (2) provide a clear vision for the future and (3) rethink and redesign ways of working for a post-pandemic world.”*
Young people inheriting this changing world are particularly hard hit by the economic fallout of the pandemic. In ‘The Reset‘, a new book addressed mainly to this generation, Elizabeth Uviebinené steps back from the immediacy of the present and asks big questions about work and life in the future.**
She begins with a call for a proper conversation about how we work, and links this to what needs to change in the culture of organisations, the way businesses operate, and the way that communities and societies are organised, with purpose and values at the core.
Instead of simply discussing ‘home v office’, or being proud of how ‘busy’ we are, she invites us to consider deeper questions such as why our identities are so tied up in our jobs. She urges us to be more thoughtful about how we prioritise and value our time. ”Exponential growth is no longer as desirable – or sustainable – as it once appeared to be,” she writes. “I want to find a way to integrate greater choice and trust into how we work and live. I want a new social contract.”
In a chapter about community, Uviebinené sees an answer to the growing epidemic of loneliness. “How different our communities would look if everyone could work more fluidly on a permanent basis,” she says. “We have a chance to rebuild [struggling high streets] with hubs, bespoke office models and casual community spaces that encourage human connection and collaboration.”
Indeed, the City of London announced plans last month to convert vacant offices into 1,500 homes, including affordable housing, and to bring in creative and tech businesses to revive the financial district.
Through examples, Uviebinené emphasises the importance of kindness, connection, equity and inclusiveness in building the future, while recognising this may not happen overnight. “Our society has had hundreds of years of prioritising work and maximising productivity, networking and raw ambition. It’s going to take a bit of time to realise what’s possible if we’re focusing on personal and collective growth.”
To all of this, I’d add that it really matters who we choose to create this future with. Whether we make small adjustments or momentous changes to live a purposeful life and contribute to a sustainable world, we need people who keep us going and whom we support in turn.
What are you rethinking in your life to contribute to a more sustainable world? Who are the people you can best do this with?
This is an edited version of my latest column published by IWE.
© Alison Maitland 2021, all rights reserved